Kit Overview: Male

Viking and Saxon men wore very similar clothes. This guide aims to provide an overview on what you will need for the basic outfit worn by a typical Saxon or Viking found in England around the time of King Alfred and the Great Heathen Army. It does not tell you how to make the clothes, but includes links to pages that do.

We get ideas about what Vikings wore from several sources.
Firstly there is archaeological evidence. Whilst full sets of clothing do not often survive in graves, fragments of cloth do survive (especially attached to broaches). In addition, there are finds from before our period that were buried in bogs- the Thorsberg finds are particularly famous.
Secondly is the evidence from pictures. The Gotland picture stones and the Oseberg tapestry both contain pictures of Vikings done by Vikings, so give a good idea of what people wore.
Finally there are written sources. The Sagas contain references to what people wore- we can piece these references together to get a complete image.

The best book for people interested in Viking clothing is Thor Ewing's Viking Clothing, whilst Mark Harrison's Viking Hersir 793-1066 AD has lots of useful pictures and is a good book to take to markets when buying weapons. Gale Owen-Crocker's Dress in Anglo-Saxon England is great for Saxons. You can also check out Caroyln Priest-Dorman's article An Archaeological Guide to Viking Men's Clothing.

Basics

The most basic and yet still decent clothes would be made of linen, and consist of an undertunic, a pair of some sort of trousers or shorts, a belt and some shoes.

Undertunic

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Woollen clothes can be itchy and irritate your skin, as well as being rather hot in midsummer. Thus, unless you were too poor, the basic set of kit would be made of linen. The first thing you should make is a simple undertunic. This can be cut to a very basic pattern, as it will later be mainly worn under your overtunic. Just use it as a place to practice making your first tunic before starting on something woollen.
Undertunics should be off-white or very lightly coloured. Linen doesn't take dyes very well, and these clothes would be washed often so colours would quickly fade. Linen or cotton should be used to make it. Linen is best, but cotton is acceptable (and cheaper). Artificial fibres made to look like linen can look ok, but don't feel right, are a bit of a hazard around fire and don't breathe as well as linen.
Wychwooders normally make their first set of kit out of a plain cotton army bed sheet, dyed with tea to make it slightly less glaringly white. A cheap alternative that doesn't require dying is fine calico, which is undyed cotton and normally costs about £2.50 per metre.
Sleeves should be wrist length and fairly tight near the wrist. The tunic should reach somewhere between mid-thigh and knee length. They can either have side gores, side splits, or front splits (front split tunics are mainly appropriate for later periods, 1066 and all that).

In this photo, Harald is a poor Viking unused to the balmy weather of the north of England. He has stripped down to just his underwear to work- a light woad-blue side-gored linen undertunic and a pair of undyed linen shorts.

Undertrousers

Just like your undertunic is a lightweight linen version of the overtunic, your undertrousers should be some sort of linen leg-covering. They can be full-length or shorts, it's up to you. No-one will see them except in hot weather…

I recommend making them to a very simple pattern, just pyjama trousers. Save the thorsbergs for the overtrousers!

Socks & Shoes

Authentic shoes are very important, and the lack of shoes can really let down an otherwise brilliant set of kit. Basic shoes are turn-shoes, simple thin leather items. They can be made yourself or purchased on-line or at re-enactment markets. Re-enactment markets are recommended over buying shoes on-line, as it's always best to try them on yourself.

Viking re-enactors also wear taller 'sea boots' sometimes.

Many Wychwooders just wear normal socks (thick woollen ones in brown or another dull colour can pass reasonably well), but a more authentic way of making socks is nalbinding.

Belts

The Vikings and Saxons, sadly, didn't use pockets. Instead, the belt is a multi-purpose tool: holding your tunic close to you, carrying your weapons, and having pouches hung off it.

Perhaps most importantly, every non-slave could use their belt to carry a knife, in a leather scabbard. For Wychwood, this can be a sharp eating/craft knife or a combat blunt seax, and can have a blade 5 to 30 cm long. Sharp knives should never be worn in public! Or in combat!

For wealthy characters, belt buckles and strap ends can both be ornately decorated. Some Eastern Vikings even covered their belts in lots of cast bronze ornaments, really showing off.

Strap-ends and buckles can both be got relatively cheaply from re-enactment markets. Leather strips can also be got there, or cut from Wychwood leather.

Extras

Overtunic

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In cold weather, a woollen overtunic can be worn. These can be made in a wide variety of colours including brick-red, yellow, light blues, browns, greys and greens.

Overtunics can be decorated on the cuffs, neckline or base. Decoration can be embroidery, sewn-on tablet-woven braid, or bands of contrasting colours. The very fanciest decoration would be bands of silk with embroidery in silver thread…

A particularly Saxon fashion was making tunics too big as a display of wealth. In order to reproduce this, make them too long in the arms and the body. Long arms are wrinkled up around the forearm, whilst the body of the tunic is pulled up over the belt and overhangs as a big belly.

Overtunics should normally have side gores, unless you're making a set of 1066 kit (which are front split).

In the photo, Arinbjorn is obviously a fairly well-off Viking. His woollen overtunic, trousers and cloak are all made of heavily dyed cloth. For decoration, he has used bands of contrasting coloured cloth at the bottom of his tunic.

Trousers

In wet or cold weather, woollen trousers, hose or thorsbergs are worn over the undertrousers. As these aren't seen as clearly by the public as overtunics, a simple pyjama-style trouser is perfectly acceptable.

However for those wanting to be more fancy, Saxons and late-period Vikings should consider making hose, whilst Vikings and early-period Saxons could look at thorsbergs. In addition, Vikings who have travelled East (to the lands of the Rus) could wear the very baggy Rus pants.

Saxon trousers should be fairly tight, whilst rich Vikings can wear baggy trousers (like Arinbjorn's yellow ones above) or huge Rus pants (like Hauk's white ones below).

Trousers often have leg bindings or puttees worn over them. These are particularly useful in long wet grass or ferns, or if your trousers are baggy (like Arinbjorn above).

Hats, hoods, cloaks & coats

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Woollen cloaks were popular with all Germanic peoples, and were often commented by outsiders from the time of Tacticus right up to ibn Fadlan. Standard feldr cloaks (rectangles 160 to 300 cm long by 80 to 160 cm wide, wrapped round body & pinned at right shoulder- like Arinbjorn's green cloak above) were worn by everyone, whilst semi-circular cloaks, hooded cloaks and poncho-style cloaks seem to have not been worn by normal Saxons (but were worn by many Vikings and by Saxon clergy).

There are two styles of coat that can be worn. Both are mainly reserved for Vikings during our normal period (from Alfred to Harold).
The first is the wrap-around jacket, like the red one with fur decoration worn by Hauk. This seems to have been popular among early Saxons and Vikings, and is illustrated on the Sutton Hoo helmet plates. It may have originally had a religious or symbolic meaning associated with the worship of Odin. It can be waist-high or reach down towards the knees.
The second is the long coat, like the two brothers are modelling. This is an Eastern style picked up by some Vikings who travelled further East, and is often called a kaftan or caftan. It is well illustrated on Gotland picture stones, and several pieces have been recovered from graves in Birka. It was buttoned (often with cast bronze buttons) or laced, and could be elaborately decorated. It could either open down the centre or to one side, but never buttoned below the waist and featured a split up the back (allowing horse-riding).

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Men can either go bareheaded or wear hats or hoods. Simple dome hats were worn by Vikings and Saxons, whilst Phrygian-style smurf hats are distinctively Saxon and long pointed hats are clearly Viking. Furry hats tend to be worn by Viking re-enactors, but we don't actually have all that much evidence for them. They look cool though.

In these photos, Hauk and Siegfridh are both Viking merchants who have obviously travelled East through the lands of the Rus. Hauk has adopted the Eastern style of Rus pants, wearing white ones made with almost 45 feet of fine linen (the largest recorded ones used 200 cubits of linen!) In the top picture, he has paired them with a red wrap-around jacket, and under this he wears the standard linen underclothes. His hat is the typical Viking long pointy hat. He uses fur for all his decoration, as he is a fur trader keen to display his wares.
The second picture display the two styles of kaftan- symmetrical Birka-style with bronze buttons on Siegfridh and asymmetrical Russia-style with cloth buttons on Hauk. Note also that Hauk's kaftan is lined in linen, and that both of them wear pointy hats.

Bling

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Rich Saxons and Vikings can wear lots of bling. Bling can be used to make a statement about your character (Saxons often wear Crosses whilst Vikings often wear Thor's Hammers), as a simple way to carry around your money (silver bangles were used for this), or as a way of showing you have the respect of your lord (rings were often gifted from a military leader to his followers). Also, they make you look all shiney and important.

Hauk's bling includes lots of silver rings (used simply to transport and display his wealth), two bracklets gifted to him by a former leader, a sun pendant he got whilst trading in the East and a cross showing he has converted to Christianity. It shows he is rich, a veteran of several battles, widely travelled and makes the important political point of his conversion.

Arms & Armour

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Weapons

There are a wide variety of weapons. The main ones are double-handed spears for poorer people and untrained fighters, single-handed spear and shield for most fighters, and swords for the rich and elites.
Langseaxes are a typically Anglo-Saxon weapon, whilst axes (whether handaxes or two-handed daneaxes) were more popular with Vikings and Anglo-Danes. The Wychwood teddybear (right) is wearing a sword belt and also a seax and a loop for hanging an axe.

Shields

Round shields were widely used throughout our period, whilst kite shields became popular in the 11th century. Shields should have metal bosses and be covered in linen, with rawhide edges to protect the wood a bit.

Helmets

There are many different styles of helmets, and the helmet page discusses them in exhaustive detail. In general, simple conical helmets can be used by anyone whilst early Vikings have spectacles and early Saxons have cheek flaps.

Armour

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Mail is the obvious armour for rich characters. Earlier period characters should wear shorter chainmail shirts (or "byrnies"), whilst richer/later ones can wear knee-length front-split mail hauberks with either integral hoods or with seperate coifs.
Beornwulf is wearing a set of armour that is very flexible, date-wise, and could be anywhere in our period (as long as his character was reasonably wealthy, a successful mercenary or warrior.) It is especially nice because it was made for him, rather than just being an off-the-peg suit. He is fighting with a spear and shield, typical weapons of our period. As a rich Saxon he might also own a sword or langseax.
We have a page giving an overview of all evidence for armour. Basically there is some evidence for lamellar, padded, metal splint, leather or reindeer hide armour, but not much and research should be done before using it. On the other hand, some form of padding or leather is very useful when worn under chainmail, and leather vambraces are really good from a safety perspective.

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